Transforming Outcomes by Transforming Leaders: Part 3

Purposeful School Leader Development

Read part one on school leader development and part two on our school leader personalized development pathway.

You’ve learned about key avenues by which AUSL seeks to grow school leaders and seen one of those pathways in action. Today, hear directly from one of those leaders and from her Director of School Leadership on her growth, experiences and passion in transforming outcomes for her students at the Fuller School of Excellence.

Hear from Our Leaders

School Leader Interview: Marilyn McCottrell, Fuller School of Excellence

Q: Tell us about your journey to AUSL.

A: I began my career as a high school English teacher at Morgan Park High School, and taught for 9 years before joining the Aspiring Principals program through New Leaders, where I was a resident principal at Michele Clark High School. From there, I became an assistant principal the first year of the turnaround at AUSL’s Lewis School of Excellence, followed by my first principalship at AUSL’s Bradwell School of Excellence. Two years later, I became principal at AUSL’s Fuller School of Excellence which is where I am today.

Marilyn McCottrell, Principal at the Fuller School of Excellence and a Madeleine Maraldi Award for Teaching Excellence nominee

Q: What makes working for an AUSL school different?

A: Oftentimes, leaders are given directives with no concrete or differentiated support to make those directives live productively in a school community. Having a Director of School Leadership (DSL), someone who intimately knows your leadership style, your school community, and all of the unique strengths and needs that come with the aforementioned, helps leaders find viable solutions. Moreover, the professional development provided is tailored to the vision of the AUSL Network, which allows principals to design the remaining supports as needed, knowing that something was already taken off our plates.

Q: What types of development do you have access to as a school leader  through AUSL that you wouldn’t necessarily get elsewhere? 

A: First and foremost, the support from my DSL is invaluable — it allows me to have a point person who can always (within minutes or hours of a request) get back to me or be a thought partner with me. My DSL knows my personality and my needs. She allows me to be authentically me while pushing me on things that I struggle with to help me be a better leader for Fuller.

Next, the support from the AUSL Performance Management team. Collaboratives [with my school leader peers] or one-on-ones [with our director of performance management] are instrumental in helping me take my vision (for example, monitoring small group instruction) and making it a tangible, easy reality with the enhancement of my [student] tracker [supported by the performance management team]. [The performance management team] is always supportive in helping me process data and codify systems for data in my school.

Q: What more would you want to further develop as a leader? 

A: I am now entering a space where my staff understands how to operate systems and routines on autopilot. They are getting stronger in their content areas and are becoming more creative in their approaches to instruction to meet the needs of students.

[At Fuller] we are now ready to help them develop or maintain systems at the school level, which means that they are ready to share the leadership of the school. This is where I’ll need help — considering how to develop this new arm [developing my teachers as school leaders, not just instructional leaders] at Fuller while maintaining what we have done so well up to this point.

Director of School Leadership Interview: Annise Lewis

Annise Lewis pictured with Deneen School of Excellence students. 

Q: Tell us about your journey to AUSL.

A: I began my teaching career in Charlotte, North Carolina where I taught primary and intermediate grades. I transitioned into administration and served as an Assistant Principal in three very different elementary schools, however, all required high expectations for achievement as each was included in the “Achievement Zone” — a network of all turnaround schools.

With this work, I was excited to broaden my scope in Chicago, when I joined AUSL in 2009. Since then, I have served as Assistant Principal at Collins Academy High School, Principal at Deneen School of Excellence, and now currently serve as a Director of School Leadership. I currently supervise eight of our network schools, including six elementary and two high schools.

Q: Tell us about the focus of your role as a DSL.

A: As a Director of School Leadership, I am responsible for managing school leaders to deliver truly excellent student outcomes. I coach, develop, and support school leaders in achieving AUSL’s goals, and partner with the entire DSL team to ensure consistent, high quality operations, and teaching and learning across the network.

Q: What do you think makes the development a school leader gets through AUSL different than they would get elsewhere?

A: One critical aspect of school leader development that is unique to AUSL is this role the Director of School Leadership (DSL) which is to provide one-to-one coaching, professional development, and thought-partnership around leadership. Most networks only see or work with their supervisors once per quarter, however, principals interact with their DSL weekly [at minimum] with frequent and ongoing communication.

Also unique to AUSL, is the level of intentional and personalized professional development that is offered to school leaders throughout the school year to enhance their knowledge of Common Core State Standards and the network curricular resources, develop the capacity of school leadership teams, and provide support with school plans the impact overall school improvement.

Q: What more would you want for your school leaders?

A: As our school leaders develop in their practices around teaching and learning, the next critical area of focus needs to be on leadership development. Our leaders have to juggle building management and human resource management with instructional leadership. This balance requires a set of leadership skills that focuses on emotional intelligence, building the leadership capacity of others, managing up, and leading change.

These areas of leadership are critical to the success of each of our school leaders despite their tenure. Providing support for our leaders around how to lead this work needs to be offered by a variety of organizations — beyond educators — to help them understand the best practices of strong organizations and the proven leadership strategies to support these structures.

To learn even more about our work in supporting our school leaders in Chicago, and across the country through our advisory services work, please reach out to Tre Childress,